My Alt Summit panel mates were Chronicle author and artist Julia Rothman, Design*Sponge founder and author Grace Bonney, Chronicle author and artist Amy Butler, and Lia Ronnen, an executive editor at Artisan Books.
Photo by Justin Hackworth.
On Wednesday you heard from my colleague Guinevere about all the inspiration we unearthed at Altitude Design Summit, the design blogging conference we just attended. And if you follow me on Twitter, I apologize for bombarding you with Alt this and Alt that all week long. But I met so many smart, creative people—I’m exhilarated and exhausted all at the same time, and completely abuzz with new ideas for Chronicle!
I spoke on a panel (with my dynamo peers above) about how to turn your blog (or any creative idea) into a book. We shared lots of specific advice on how to come up with a good idea, write a proposal, navigate a typical contract, and what to expect from the design, production, and promotion processes.
If you were there, thanks for listening and for taking the initiative to tell me about your ideas afterward. I’m always looking for smart new concepts, so kudos for not being shy! And please keep ‘em coming.
For everyone who wasn’t able to attend, I’ve distilled my tips into these key takeaways. Since it’s what I’m most commonly asked, I focused here on how to come up with a winning idea and put together an attractive proposal. If you dream of writing a book or working with Chronicle on an idea, I hope you’ll find direction here. Identify your next steps of action and Make. It. Happen.
By the way, the uber talented Julia Rothman illustrated these beautiful slides for our presentation. Isn’t she the best??
How to Come Up With a Good Book Idea
1. Research and read your competition. Likely the most common piece of advice you’ll hear, but the most important place to start. Go to bookstores, your favorite gift shops in your neighborhood, and Anthropologie or Williams Sonoma or wherever you dream of seeing your book and spend time getting to know the books in your category. Identify what you love about likeminded books. Make lists of what they offer so you can figure out what you can offer that someone else hasn’t already. There’s nothing worse than pitching an editor only to find out she’s just published something very similar. Also look on Amazon to see what reviewers are saying about your competition—maybe they’ll point to a missed opportunity.
2. Think about value and identify an impulse to purchase. Spend time thinking about what value you can offer and how that presents a need to buy. A publisher is going to be thinking about the buying occasion for your book—why would someone (someone who doesn’t know and love you) buy your book? And a consumer is likely going to invest in content they can refer back to again and again. What do they get from it? The last five books you bought, why did you buy them? Did they teach you a skill? Did the package have an irresistible object quality you put proudly on display? Did they make you laugh—more than once? Was it to gift to someone on a specific occasion like Mother’s Day?
How to Make Yourself Attractive in Proposals
1. Write a formal business letter meets email to your best friend. Convey the spirit of your idea and your personality, while also showing me you’ve done your homework. The spirit part—bloggers are lucky because you’ve already vetted your tone and content on your readers. If your blog’s funny and you want to write a funny book, write a funny pitch. Reading your proposal should give me a real sense of what it will be like to read your book. Then the business letter part is pretty straightforward.
2. Fully but succinctly hit the high notes, including:
- An overview of your idea. Your editor will have to pitch the concept to a roomful of people, and ultimately the people selling your book will have 30 seconds to pitch it to store buyers. I’m looking for a smart one-liner sales handle plus a succinct description of the concept. And I’d be grateful if you’ve crafted a perfectly clever one for me!
- Your bio and blog stats. Also include how you plan to reach your audience and promote the book.
- Quantified description of the book’s realistic audience. While we like you to quantify your audience, unfortunately not all 85 million moms in America are going to come to your business book for moms. Think less about the census and more about your realistic ability to reach potential consumers. For example, “the 12,000 people who follow me on Twitter, especially entrepreneurial women who have left their full time jobs and want to either earn an income or feel fulfilled creatively.”
- A list of competitive books. Focus on what’s been published in the past 5 years and specify how yours differs.
- An outline or annotated list of chapters.
- A sample chapter or two. This is really important—writing a sample will teach you a lot about what your book is and your ability to sustain the concept or tone across more than just the description. And for a visual book, it will help us understand the balance between text and art.
3. Mock it up. Make it pretty. If you want to work with Chronicle, you know we’re visual people. The more visually compelling your proposal, the more interested we are. If your blog’s crafty or about design, make sure your proposal is full of images. To me there’s nothing worse than getting a craft, fashion, design, or art book proposal with no images! You can look at what products we publish and fit your work into our formats. If you’re thinking beyond books (stationery, games, kits, other gift products—I hope you are!), a super simple thing to do is to take an existing product of ours and make a physical mockup of your proposed product. This always gets my attention and I’m surprised how few people do it.
4. Show how your brand expands beyond one book. Chronicle wants to invest in authors who have more than one book in them. So you do definitely want to fully develop that one main book idea (and actually it drives me nuts when someone just proposed a laundry list of unbaked ideas because it makes me think you haven’t thought it through). But you might also want to show us how your brand extends beyond that first book.
5. No typos. We’re editors. Seriously, no typos at all.
To read some audience reactions and get even more snippets of advice from our Blog to Book panel, check out this easy-to-follow Twitter timeline that Guinevere (the brains behind Chronicle’s Twitter feed) put together using Storify.
And if you have any more questions for me on the best way to pitch a project to Chronicle, by all means, ask away in the comments below.
Yours in the pursuit of good ideas,